The American Democracy Project is a multi-campus initiative that seeks to create an intellectual and experiential understanding of civic engagement in the United States in the 21st century.
The project targets undergraduates enrolled at institutions that are members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). The project grows out of a concern about decreasing rates of participation in the civic life of America in voting, in advocacy, in local grassroots associations, and in other forms of civic engagement that are necessary for the vitality of our democracy. The goals of the project are:
- To increase the number of undergraduate students who understand and are committed to engaging in meaningful civic actions by asking participating institutions to review and restructure academic programs and processes, extracurricular programs and activities, and the institutional culture; and
- To focus the attention of policy makers and opinion leaders on the civic value of the college experience. This project uses the definition of civic engagement proposed by Thomas Ehrlich and his colleagues in Civic Responsibility and Higher Education:
“Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”
“A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.”
The project seeks to
- Create a national conversation among many campuses about the theory and practice of civic engagement;
- Develop institutional commitment by involving senior administrators, faculty, staff and students; by addressing core institutional mission and purpose; and by focusing on civic engagement as a learning outcome for undergraduates;
- Initiate new projects, courses and teaching strategies, extracurricular programs, and other programs to increase civic engagement, supported by the national project office;
- Measure the civic engagement outcomes of undergraduates on participating campuses, and assess the impact of this project in contributing to greater civic engagement outcomes; and
- Disseminate the models that result to a wide audience of higher education institutions, individuals, and policy makers.
The project initially will involve 144 member campuses of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), representing more than 1.3 million students.
The national project is directed by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; a project co-director comes from The New York Times. Direction and support comes from a group of presidents and chancellors that serve on the AASCU Committee on the Undergraduate Experience; operational guidance comes from a group of chief academic officers who serve as the Implementation Committee. The project is assisted by a number of colleagues that work in civic engagement and related fields who serve on an Advisory Committee.